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Top 20 Causes of Car Accidents and How to Avoid Them

Car accidents are deeply destructive, wreaking havoc on countless lives and leaving behind a trail of devastation. In the blink of an eye, these catastrophic events can cause irreparable damage to individuals, families, and communities. 

Understanding the most common causes of car accidents is necessary for anyone who drives. This article highlights key factors like distracted driving, driving under the influence, and speeding that significantly increase the risk of accidents. By being aware of these causes, you can take proactive steps to avoid risky behaviors and drive more safely. This not only protects you but also ensures the safety of everyone on the road. Remember, responsible driving starts with being informed, so let's all do our part to make our roads safer.

The Top 20 Most Common Causes of Car Accidents

Beyond the physical toll, a car accident leaves emotional scars that can last a lifetime as survivors grapple with the psychological aftermath of the tragedy. The financial burden associated with medical expenses, property damage, and legal proceedings adds another layer of destruction, often causing financial strain for those involved. The wide extent of car accidents is clear, as there were 115,938 reportable traffic crashes in Pennsylvania alone in 2022. These crashes claimed the lives of 1,179 people and injured another 67,012 people, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transport. This article will examine the 20 most common causes of car accidents and serve as a reminder of the importance of responsible driving.

What are the Most Common Causes of Car Accidents?

Car accidents most commonly occur due to various causes, each posing a unique road risk. Many accidents are avoidable, and some causes are more common than others. Our list, drawn from the PennDOT crash report 2022, showcases 20 common causes of car accidents. It's important to note that the order is random, emphasizing these incidents' varied and unpredictable nature. Knowing the causes can help prevention. Here are the 20 most common causes of car accidents: 

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving, particularly cell phone use such as:

  • texting and driving
  • eating
  • adjusting the radio
  • engaging in conversations

These all significantly contribute to most car accidents. These distractions divert a driver's attention from the road, resulting in delayed reactions and impaired judgment. To address this pressing issue, drivers must prioritize their focus on driving and eliminate all distractions to ensure safety for themselves and others on the road.

Driving Under The Influence

Driving under the influence (DUI) poses a serious threat to road safety. It occurs when individuals drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs, leading to impaired judgment, coordination, and reaction times. 86% of the alcohol-related occupant fatalities (drivers and passengers) were in the vehicle driven by the drinking driver; 74% were the drinking drivers themselves. DUI accidents result in severe injuries and fatalities, affecting the impaired driver and innocent individuals on the road. Strict enforcement of laws, public education, and promotion of alternative transportation options are essential to prevent DUI accidents.


Speeding is a common cause of car accidents and a major contributor to why fatal car accidents happen. It involves driving above the designated speed limits or too fast for the given road conditions. Excessive speed reduces the time for drivers to react to unexpected situations. Speeding increases the distance required to bring the vehicle to a stop, making it more difficult to maintain control. Speeding reduces a driver's ability to respond effectively and amplifies the force of impact in a collision, leading to more severe injuries and damage.

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving includes various dangerous behaviors characterized by disregarding traffic laws and the safety of oneself and others on the road. Reckless driving may include excessive speeding, aggressive maneuvers, tailgating, abrupt lane changes, running red lights, or ignoring traffic signals. In 2022, there were 26,848 speed related crashes, resulting in 404 fatalities. These reckless actions significantly increase the likelihood of collisions and endanger the lives of everyone involved. Reckless drivers often lack awareness and consideration for other road users, creating a chaotic and unpredictable driving environment.

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Poor Weather

Poor weather conditions contribute to many motor vehicle accidents, presenting formidable challenges for drivers on the road. Adverse weather, such as rain, snow, fog, or ice, creates hazardous driving conditions that reduce visibility, decrease traction, and make it more difficult to control a vehicle. More accidents happen in dry conditions, but rain and fog combined produce a large amount of accidents relative to how less frequently those conditions are evident. In poor weather conditions, drivers must exercise caution, adjust their speed to match the road conditions, maintain a safe following distance, and ensure their vehicles are properly equipped for the weather.

Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving occurs when drivers operate a vehicle while feeling excessively tired or sleepy. Drowsiness can impair a driver's ability to stay focused, react quickly, and make sound decisions on the road. Drowsy drivers may experience microsleep episodes, briefly falling asleep without realizing it, which can last for seconds or longer. In 2022, there were 2,396 accidents involving drowsy drivers, resulting in 12 fatalities. These lapses in attention increase the risk of veering off the road, colliding with other vehicles, or failing to respond to traffic signals. Drowsy driving accidents often result in severe injuries or fatalities, as the impact is typically unexpected, and drivers may be unable to take evasive actions.

Teenage Driving

Teenage driving is a significant factor contributing to car accidents, highlighting the unique challenges and risks young and inexperienced drivers face. Studies show that teenage males and females were the most likely age demographic to be involved in car accidents compared to the number of drivers on the road. Teenagers often need more experience, judgment, and maturity to handle complex driving situations effectively. They may underestimate the dangers on the road, engage in risky behaviors, or be easily distracted by peers or technology. Speeding, distracted driving, and impaired driving are common issues among teenage drivers. Additionally, peer pressure and a sense of invincibility can lead to reckless driving behaviors. Teenage drivers are more prone to accidents, with a higher likelihood of being involved in fatal crashes than other age groups.

Road Rage

Road rage refers to aggressive or hostile behaviors drivers display in response to perceived offenses or frustrations on the road. Road rage can manifest in various ways, such as:

  • excessive speeding
  • tailgating
  • abrupt lane changes
  • honking
  • yelling, or confrontations with other drivers

These aggressive actions create a hostile driving environment, impair judgment, and increase the risk of collisions. Road rage incidents can escalate quickly, with drivers becoming increasingly agitated and engaging in dangerous maneuvers that endanger themselves and others. To prevent accidents caused by road rage, drivers need to remain calm, exercise patience, and practice empathy and respect on the road.

Improper Turns

Making turns without following proper procedures, such as:

  • failing to use turn signals
  • misjudging the speed or distance of oncoming vehicles
  • executing turns from incorrect lanes

These can all lead to collisions. Improper turns can cause side-impact accidents, T-bone collisions, or crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists. In 2022, there were 13,079 accidents related to improper turning, resulting in 63 fatalities. These incidents often occur at intersections or when changing lanes without sufficient caution. Drivers who make improper turns put themselves at risk and endanger other road users who may have the right of way. To prevent accidents caused by improper turns, such as left-hand turns, drivers must adhere to traffic laws, signal their intentions, and carefully assess traffic conditions before executing a turn.

Night Driving

Night driving presents unique challenges and contributes to deadly car accidents, posing an increased risk to road safety. Reduced visibility, fatigue, and poor depth perception make driving at night more hazardous. Limited lighting conditions make it more difficult to identify hazards, judge distances accurately, and react to sudden changes on the road. Fatigue tends to be higher during nighttime, impairing concentration and reaction times. Additionally, nighttime driving increases the likelihood of encountering drunk or drowsy drivers, further elevating the risk of accidents. Unsurprisingly, the majority (60%) of drunk driving car accidents happen between 8 pm and 3 am. To mitigate the risks of night driving, drivers should ensure their headlights are properly adjusted, maintain a safe speed, and remain alert and focused.

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Road Hazards

Road hazards present unexpected dangers that can catch drivers off guard. These hazards encompass many obstacles and conditions that can impair vehicle control and lead to collisions. Some common road hazards include:

  • potholes
  • debris
  • oil spills
  • wet or icy surfaces
  • loose gravel
  • poorly marked construction zones.

In 2022, 45 percent of work zone crashes resulted in fatalities or injuries. Hitting a pothole or driving over debris can damage tires or cause loss of control, while slippery surfaces increase the risk of skidding and loss of traction. Construction zones with unclear signage may confuse drivers and result in unsafe maneuvers. To prevent accidents caused by road hazards, drivers should remain vigilant, adapt their driving to current road conditions, and reduce speed in hazardous areas.

Animal Crossings

Animal crossings can increase the probability of car accidents, particularly in areas where wildlife frequently intersects with roads. Animals like deer, bears, or smaller creatures may dart across roads without warning, often during dawn, dusk, or nighttime hours. These sudden encounters can startle drivers, leading to panic braking, swerving, or collisions. In 2022, there were 4,533 incidents of hitting deer, accounting for 3.9% of total accidents, resulting in 6 fatalities, constituting 0.5% of all fatalities. Additionally, there were 217 accidents involving hitting other animals, representing 0.2% of total accidents, with 1 fatality recorded, making up 0.1% of all fatalities. Animal crossings are particularly hazardous on rural roads near forests or open spaces with abundant wildlife populations. To reduce the risk of accidents, drivers should pay attention to wildlife warning signs, adhere to speed limits, and be cautious in areas prone to animal crossings. Maintaining control of the vehicle and avoiding abrupt maneuvers when encountering an animal on the road is critical.

Vehicle Malfunctions

Mechanical failures or malfunctions in a vehicle's components, such as:

  • brakes
  • tires
  • steering, or electrical systems

These can compromise its ability to operate properly. Brake failures may result in the inability to stop or slow down, while tire blowouts can lead to loss of control. Steering malfunctions can make it difficult to steer or navigate the vehicle, while electrical system failures can affect key components like lights or indicators. Even minor malfunctions can escalate into major safety concerns while driving. Regular vehicle maintenance, including inspections, servicing, and timely repairs, is essential in identifying and addressing potential malfunctions. Drivers should also pay attention to warning signs, unusual noises, or changes in vehicle performance and take immediate action to resolve any issues.


Potholes are depressions in the road surface that result from pavement deterioration, weather conditions, or heavy traffic. When drivers encounter potholes unexpectedly, it can lead to loss of control, damage to tires, suspension systems, or even accidents. Hitting a pothole can cause a sudden jolt, leading to a loss of vehicle stability or steering control. In some cases, drivers may swerve to avoid a pothole, inadvertently colliding with other vehicles or objects. Potholes are especially dangerous when filled with water, as they can be difficult to see, making it harder for drivers to gauge their depth or severity. Drivers should remain alert, especially in areas prone to poor road conditions, and be prepared to slow down or maneuver around them if safe.

Wrong-Way Driving

Wrong-way driving is when a driver enters a roadway or travels in the opposite direction of the traffic flow. Wrong-way driving can happen due to various factors, such as:

  • confusion
  • impaired judgment
  • intoxication, or even intentional actions

The consequences of wrong-way driving can be devastating, increasing the likelihood of head-on collisions and high-speed crashes. In many cases, wrong-way drivers are only detected once it's too late for other motorists to react, leaving little time to avoid a collision. It is important for drivers to adhere to traffic signs, remain alert, and pay attention to roadway markings. Prompt reporting of wrong-way drivers to authorities is essential for preventing potential accidents and alerting other drivers on the road.

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Street Racing

Street racing is an extremely dangerous and illegal activity that poses a grave risk to road safety. Street racing involves drivers competing in high-speed races on public roads, often in urban areas or late at night when traffic is lighter. Participants in street racing disregard traffic laws, speed limits, and basic safety precautions, putting themselves and innocent bystanders at great risk. The reckless maneuvers, sudden lane changes, and excessive speeds associated with street racing make it highly susceptible to accidents. Collisions can occur when racers lose control of their vehicles, collide with other cars, or strike pedestrians or roadside objects. The consequences of street racing accidents are often severe, leading to injuries or even fatalities.

Age-Related Driving

Certain physical and cognitive changes can affect individuals' driving abilities as they age. Age-related vision changes, such as:

  • reduced visual acuity
  • diminished depth perception
  • decreased peripheral vision

These all can impact a driver's ability to detect hazards and respond quickly. Slower reaction times and decreased flexibility may affect the ability to maneuver the vehicle effectively. Age-related conditions like arthritis, Parkinson's disease, or cognitive impairments can further affect driving skills. It is important for older drivers to regularly assess their abilities, be aware of any limitations, and take necessary precautions. This can include regular vision and hearing checks, adjustments to driving habits or schedules, and considering alternative transportation options when necessary.

Aggressive Driving

Aggressive driving reduces the ability to react to changing road conditions, increases the likelihood of losing vehicle control, and impairs judgment. To prevent accidents caused by aggressive driving, drivers must practice patience, remain calm, and respect the rights of others on the road. Practicing defensive driving techniques, avoiding confrontations, and reporting aggressive drivers to the authorities can help maintain safer driving conditions for all motorists.

Driving in Construction Zones

Construction zones typically have reduced speed limits, narrow lanes, detours, and temporary signage, all of which require extra caution and attention from drivers. Failure to adapt to these changing conditions can lead to accidents. In 2022, there were 56 incidents involving hitting temporary construction barriers, making up just 0.1% of all accidents. Fortunately, there were no fatalities recorded in these incidents, highlighting the importance of proper construction zone safety measures.

Common causes of accidents in construction zones include distracted driving, speeding, abrupt lane changes, and failure to yield to construction vehicles or workers. Additionally, uneven surfaces, loose gravel, or debris can affect vehicle stability and control in construction zones. Drivers must obey posted speed limits, remain focused on the road, and be prepared to react to changing conditions. They must also respect construction workers and their equipment by yielding the right of way and being aware of their presence.

Ignoring Traffic Signs

Traffic signs are essential for regulating traffic flow, providing important information, and ensuring the safety of all road users. Disregarding traffic signs, such as stop signs, yield signs, speed limit signs, or traffic signals, can result in collisions and potentially life-threatening situations. Ignoring stop signs or failing to yield the right of way can lead to T-bone accidents or collisions with pedestrians or cyclists. Ignoring speed limit signs can contribute to excessive speeding, reducing reaction times and increasing the likelihood of accidents.


Where Do Most Car Crashes Happen?

Car accidents occur most frequently in areas with high vehicle concentrations, such as urban areas, intersections, and highways. Rural roads with challenging conditions can also be prone to accidents.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than half of all car accidents resulting in serious injury or death occur within 25 miles of home. Additionally, around 52% of accidents happen within just five miles of home. These statistics highlight the significance of safe driving practices, even during short trips close to home. However, car accidents, including in residential neighborhoods and parking lots, can happen anywhere. Promoting safe driving practices and obeying traffic laws are necessary for reducing car crashes in all locations.

Tips to Avoid Car Accidents

Here are some tips to help avoid car accidents:

  • Follow traffic laws
  • Maintain a safe following distance
  • Avoid distractions
  • Stay alert and focused
  • Use turn signals
  • Check blind spots
  • Adjust for weather conditions
  • Be mindful of pedestrians and cyclists
  • Avoid aggressive driving
  • Regularly maintain your vehicle

Remember, safe driving is a responsibility that everyone shares. By practicing these tips, you can contribute to a safer road environment for yourself and others.

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Meet the Author

Laura Levenberg - Associate Attorney

Laura J. Levenberg is a vaccine injury lawyer at My Vaccine Lawyer. Prior to joining My Vaccine Lawyer, Ms. Levenberg worked as a trial attorney at a litigation firm specializing in personal injury matters, primarily arising from motor vehicle accidents and slip/trip and fall incidents. Laura has successfully represented clients in all stages of litigation, including depositions, negotiations, motion practice, oral arguments, arbitrations, and trial. Laura also serves as a certified arbitrator in Philadelphia County.

Learn more about Laura J. Levenberg